Battery smackdown, now and then: No contest

About a month ago, I got this wild idea to have a kind of battery smackdown … mostly because I own two machines now that predate the turn of the century but still have working batteries.

And because I noticed the other day that the battery on my X60s, which I keep on hand as a small sliver of contemporary computing, seems to be dwindling. Despite its meager three years on the planet.

But there’s no point in it now, because it’s dreadfully obvious that the X60s’s battery is terrifically weaker than the battery, for example, in my Mebius.

That one, the one that is ostensibly 14 years old now, will wind its way down to nothing, trigger the BIOS alarm and cruise to a gentle stop in about … oh, two and a half hours.

That’s right. A 14-year-old battery lasts about two and a half hours. Earth hours. No gimmicks for daylight savings time either, or whatever that’s called in America. (What the heck is that about, anyway? 😕 )

Call me lucky, but it’s not just that computer either. The battery in the Fujitsu 133Mhz machine is lasting roughly an hour, even if it doesn’t have the remarkable endurance of its contemporary.

By comparison, the X60s, even though it is a Thinkpad and even though I do prefer this brand and make to just about any other … rolls in at around 45 minutes, and that’s under low stress and with minimal system load.

Okay, now you can critique my experiment from any angle you like. Yes, I know, the power demands in a Pentium MMX laptop running a CF card as a system drive are very low.

And I know a core duo with a 320Gb hard drive needs quite a bit more power to do its thing. Apples and oranges.

I have reputation for (unfairly) pointing out inconsistencies between generations of hardware; there’s even a video on this site somewhere, siphoned from YouTube, showing a lowly MacIntosh starting from a floppy in less time than a year-old Windows-driven machine.

My concern isn’t so much with the hardware discrepancy. It’s for the collective mindset that says these deficiencies are somehow acceptable.

Fourteen years ago we had technology that allowed for perfectly silent computers that started in a matter of seconds and batteries that lasted more than two and a half hours.

Now there seems to be some sort of regression, where computers need five minutes to start, power supplies that outstrip a microwave oven, a half-dozen fans, and batteries that may or may not last the duration of a bus ride to work. 👿

Go ahead and tell me about your netbook now, or your hermetically sealed desktop machine that emits under 10 decibels and betrays my contentions. I will accept your counterpoint as an exception.

But not the rule. For me, the rule says we have lowered our expectations, and don’t think anything of it. It’s my job to remind you of how things were. And suggest how they should be. 😈

7 thoughts on “Battery smackdown, now and then: No contest

  1. Reacocard

    Keep in mind battery technology has changed over time. Those older laptops are probably using NiMH cells, while the newer Thinkpad uses Lithium-Ion. Lithium-Ion is lighter and (when new) lasts longer than an equivalent NiMH, but will wear out over time and eventually have a capacity much less than its original design. So far as I know, NiMH cells are not nearly as vulnerable to this, explaining the discrepancy you observe. I’d expect that Thinkpad to get upwards of 4 hours with a new battery, assuming it is just a case of the battery being worn out. For Thinkpads you can inspect battery status using tp-smapi, might want to take a look and see if you just have a bad battery. My Thinkpad T61 got over 5 hours new and still hits 2-3 regularly after 2 years of moderately heavy use.

  2. YankeeDDL

    I subscribe the two comments above: both valid.
    I would like to add that in the office where I work we went though a Thinkpad-phase. I can say that about 2/3rds of the laptop, after about 1 year had a pitiful battery life. Knowing the colleagues, I can assure you that no care, whatsoever, was taken to try to preserve the battery. Nevertheless, I found it quite disappointing.
    I was lucky enough to have a high-capacity battery that lasted about 8hrs in it’s prime days (with quite restrictive power-management settings) and even 4 years down the road could easily cover more than half a day worth of email, light web browsing, and the usual set of office apps. Not bad at all if you ask me.

  3. PeterStJ

    I have seen laptops from lenovo, acer and toshiba drain the battery to ‘a few seconds when no AC’ in less than year. I am not sure why, but this is the case with all laptops at work, even the newer ones. On the other hand I have always wanter a laptop, that can work on solar power, meaning efficient enough to make its computation on the lower power supplied. The lower computational capacity can be easily overcome with the console applications (I am happy to state, that I am almost entierly using those, it is easier on my eyes to). Unfortinately such CPUs have not yet been presented to the customer.
    And I am still waiting. As one of my favourit tv show characters sais: “The things I want are not invented yet”

  4. koleoptero

    You must also take into consideration the significantly lower prices computers have nowadays. You couldn’t easily find a NEW laptop with $400 ten years ago. Now you can. And even if the thinkpad wasn’t in the “cheap” category, all hardware has paid the price.

  5. Luca

    Another thing to bear in mind is that up until 2 or 3 years ago there wasn’t really a focus on making hardware eco-friendly, it was all about making it faster and faster. Recent chips they are much more eco-friendly, you can now get laptops for < £300 that have a 12 hour battery life.

  6. keithpeter

    I must be lucky, my T42 ‘refurbished’ laptop off the well known web site gets just over 3 hours off its battery (6 years old). The fan only comes on when doing processor intensive things.

    I decided to acquire a newer and faster thinkpad T60 (4 years old) based on my positive experiences, and ran into fan control problems (see It also manages just over 3 hours with a realistic use (wifi, web browser, word-processor) but no videos. And it makes a noise. Often.

    The original plan was to sell the T42 but I’m dithering now… it might be the T60 that goes.


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